My short story “Sisyphus”

In October, my first published short story came out in FIYAH literary magazine, Issue #4: Roots. It’s about a person in the not-so-basic training in a future US Civil War. Charles Payseur at Quick Sip Reviews kindly called it “an incredibly intense story about intimacy and conditioning and the breaking of a person to make them into a weapon.” I’ll take it.

I wrote this before War Lit. In my first workshop (taught by Elizabeth Eslami, who would eventually teach the War Lit class), we read Phil Klay’s Redeployment (just before it won the National Book Award), and the voices of the characters hit me hard and fast. The idea fully coalesced when a Writing Excuses prompt told me to “kill the bad guy in every scene.”

As I revised and built the story world, I focused on a couple things: how the media creates a warrior narrative, and what trauma is created when you’re forced to become a better killer, when that skill means survival.

There’s a scattered and fuzzy quality to the narrator’s memories reminds me of what Morris talks about in Evil Hours about memory distortion and blame. The protagonist is rapidly losing her memory of how exactly she came to be in this situation. She comes back to moments again from different angles, keeps trying to analyze how she got in this situation in the first place. She’s looking for someone to blame for the pain she’s in. While there aren’t any gods for her to avoid blaming, she does aim at the god that rules so much of the world right now–the media.

The war of images is a misleading term. It makes it sound as if there’s one war, with discrete fronts. In reality, images wage war on many different levels. As in this story, and so much of history, they’re persuasive. Ads and slogans that pull people to be stronger, braver, to be warriors. Things media–like movies, especially superhero movies–remind us are good things. Things we should emulate. Paragons of selflessness.

On the other hand, media can also be a weapon to terrify or paralyze your opponents by making them feel helpless or desensitized to the true battle at hand. Videos of mass shootings and executions are potent acts of war. In Sisyphus, the protagonist places a substantial amount of blame on persuasive media and her mother is paralyzed by media meant to reassure.

I wonder how SFF will reflect the continued evolution of warfare, especially as war becomes less and less tangible. It’s strange how civilians have so much access to war simulations, like video games and video footage, yet we’re so disconnected from the consequences of actual warfare. There hasn’t been a war on US soil in over 150 years (not counting the attack on Pearl Harbor), and without a military draft, most of us can live without some of the major consequences of the forever wars we wage. (Fiscal consequences may be explored in the future.)

I can’t help but come to the same question I always do, and I think it shows in this story:

Who would fight?

In this story I offer one answer of, I think, several: the idealistic and the delusional.

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